Monday, September 29, 2014

I Stand Corrected by Eden Collinsworth

This is another review done as a member of Amazon Vine, so I'm posting a description of the book with a direct link to my review on Amazon.

book cover
I Stand Corrected
by Eden Collinsworth

ISBN-13: 9780385538695
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Released: October 7, 2014

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A fascinating fusion of memoir, manners, and cultural history from a successful businesswoman well versed in the unique challenges of working in contemporary China.

During the course of a career that has, quite literarily, moved her around the world, no country has fascinated Eden Collinsworth more than China, where she has borne witness to its profound transformation. In I Stand Corrected, Collinsworth tells the entertaining and insightful story of the year she spent living among the Chinese while writing a book featuring advice on such topics as personal hygiene, the rules of the handshake, and making sense of foreigners. Scrutinizing etiquette, she explains Chinese practices and reveals much about our own Western culture. At the same time, I Stand Corrected is a wry reflection on the peripatetic career she led while single-handedly raising her son.

My Review: Link to my review on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bend Your Brain by Marbles Brain Store

book cover
Bend Your Brain
by Marbles Brain Store

ISBN-13: 9780804140096
Trade Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Released: August 19, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
This first book from the team behind Marbles: The Brain Store offers puzzles and brain teasers to help enhance memory, build problem-solving skills, and reduce stress. They've designed these puzzles to keep your mind flexible and fit.

Arranged in five key brain categories—visual perception, word skills, critical thinking, coordination, and memory—Bend Your Brain offers a variety of puzzles ranging from mind-warming (easy) to mind-blowing (hard!):

· Connecting the dots? More like working your spatial-orientation skills.
· Identifying famous smiles? Flexing your visual memory.
· Taking a closer look at your keyboard? Coding, storing, and retrieving.
· Word-doku? Summoning cognitive abilities like appraisal, inference, impulse control, and evaluation.
· Word scrambles? Tapping your brain’s association areas.

My Review:
Bend Your Brain is a puzzle book containing 151 puzzles to give your brain a workout. The puzzles were divided into 5 sections, and each section was focused on exercising a certain part of the brain. The first page briefly described what was going to be exercised in that section, and there was some brain trivia mixed throughout the book. One part had you physically doing things, like standing in front of a mirror and using your body to make letters. Some puzzles were intended to be cut out of the book and folded. There were word finds, mazes, crosswords, connect the dots, and variations on many other puzzle types.

It's intended for people familiar with puzzle books. The instructions were often too vague if you'd never encountered the puzzle type before. For example, the instructions said that you should do their Word-doku puzzle like a Sudoku puzzle. I've never done a Sudoku puzzle so had no idea of what to do.

The book seemed aimed at the older set. Some logos that they assume you're familiar with were not recognized by four people about 40 years old but were recognized by a couple that was in their late 60s. You'll do best at these puzzles if you watch a lot of television and know a lot of trivia. Incidentally, they also use a lot of "common phrases" that someone who didn't grow up in America wouldn't know.

I don't normally do puzzle books, but a book I recently read was pushing "exercising your brain" so I gave this puzzle book a try. It didn't make me a fan of puzzle books, but I don't think I was the intended target audience. I found some of the puzzle very easy--even ones that were supposed to be hard. I found some easy puzzles difficult simply because I didn't know the required trivia or because I found the instructions too vague. Some puzzle were "just right" and very fun. People who love puzzle books might enjoy the variety of different puzzles found in this one.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

book cover
Fluent Forever
by Gabriel Wyner

ISBN-13: 9780385348119
Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Harmony
Released: August 5, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
For those who’ve despaired of ever learning a foreign language, here, finally, is a book that will make the words stick.

The greatest challenge to learning a foreign language is the challenge of memory; there are just too many words and too many rules. For every new word we learn, we seem to forget two old ones, and as a result, fluency can seem out of reach. Fluent Forever tackles this challenge head-on. With empathy for the language-challenged and abundant humor, Wyner deconstructs the learning process, revealing how to build a foreign language in your mind from the ground up.

Starting with pronunciation, you’ll learn how to rewire your ears and turn foreign sounds into familiar sounds. You'll retrain your tongue to produce those sounds accurately, using tricks from opera singers and actors. Next, you'll begin to tackle words, and connect sounds and spellings to imagery, rather than translations, which will enable you to think in a foreign language. And with the help of sophisticated spaced-repetition techniques, you'll be able to memorize hundreds of words a month in minutes every day. Soon, you'll gain the ability to learn grammar and more difficult abstract words--without the tedious drills and exercises of language classes and grammar books.

My Review:
Fluent Forever is a book on how people make lasting memories and how to use that information to quickly learn (and remember) the language of your choice. Don't throw out those grammar books and pronunciation guides, but put them to better work by using the latest research into how we make memories and how to make them endure. The research information can be used to remember anything more easily.

The rest of the book discussed how to apply the research to learning languages quickly: remembering new words and even grammar rules without getting bored or confused, how to learn words with a local (rather than American) accent, and how to become fluent in that language.

The author has a nice sense of humor and such an enthusiasm for the subject that reading the book was a lot of fun as well as interesting. Also, he pointed out free online tools (or alternative offline methods) to help you learn your chosen language effectively and then teaches you how to use those tools. It was very easy for me to understand and follow his instructions.

I learned Spanish back in high school and periodically try to re-learn it. It's probably been a good refresher exercise, but I usually get bored with it and so leave off when I get busy with other things. I've started following his system to (re)learn Spanish, and it's a lot more fun than other methods I've tried. It's designed to be fun. I'm also remembering things a lot better, which encourages me to stick with it. If you're serious about wanting to learn a new language, I'd highly recommend this excellent resource.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Foundations in Comic Book Art by John Paul Lowe

book cover
Foundations in Comic Book Art
by John Paul Lowe

ISBN-13: 9780770436964
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: August 12, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Artists seeking a way to break into the exciting world of sequential art first need to master the tools, techniques, and habits used by their favorite pencillers, inkers, and digital artists for creating dynamic, exciting comic artwork.

In Foundations for Comic Book Art, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) enlists one of its top instructors, John Paul Lowe, to provide aspiring comic book makers with a thorough primer for creative comics. This book features must-know concepts like contour drawing, mastering perspective, using photo-references, and adding digital patterns. Examples from the works of SCAD faculty, alumni, and students are paired with Lowe’s easy-to-follow, step-by-step lessons and exercises for readers, demonstrating the vital processes all would-be sequential artists have to know.

My Review:
Foundations in Comic Book Art contains concise, easy-to-follow information on the principles of drawing for those interested in sequential art.

Throughout the book, he gave interesting exercises for the reader to do to improve their drawing. The author talked about the basic materials needed to start. He explained freehand drawing, contour lines, perspectives, and figure drawing. He explained some information specific to laying out sequential art and the materials needed to thumbnail, pencil, and ink the images. There were detailed sections on using pen nibs and brushes to ink and basic and advanced inking techniques. There was also a section on using Photoshop to create grids and to add patterns to scanned-in artwork. The illustrations did an excellent job of showing what the author explained in the text.

So it's a very informative and useful book. This book is probably best for a beginner artist interested in drawing comics and the artist who doesn't know the technical processes involved in drawing comics. However, this book didn't go into what it's really like to be involved in comics as an artist or how to best tell a story using the art (since the art carries half the storytelling load in comics). It's also pretty light on using digital tools to make comics. But it does well at what it set out to do.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case by Michael A. Ross

This is another review done as a member of Amazon Vine, so I'm posting a description of the book with a direct link to my review on Amazon.

book cover
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case
by Michael A. Ross

ISBN-13: 9780199778805
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Released: October 14, 2014

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In June 1870, the residents of the city of New Orleans were already on edge when two African American women kidnapped seventeen-month-old Mollie Digby from in front of her New Orleans home. It was the height of Radical Reconstruction, and the old racial order had been turned upside down: black men now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen.

In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, Michael Ross offers the first full account of this event that electrified the South at one of the most critical moments in the history of American race relations. Tracing the crime from the moment it was committed through the highly publicized investigation and sensationalized trial that followed, Ross paints a vivid picture of the Reconstruction-era South and the complexities and possibilities that faced the newly integrated society.

My Review: Link to my review on Amazon.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis

book cover
Words for Pictures
by Brian Michael Bendis

ISBN-13: 978-0770434359
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: July 22, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Book Cover:
Best-selling Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis reveals the comic book writing secrets behind his work on The Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man, All-New X-Men, and more.

Bendis guides aspiring creators through each step of the comics-making process—from idea to script to finished sequential art—for comics like Ultimate Spider-Man. Along the way, tips and insights from other working writers, artists, and editors provide a rare, extensive look behind the creative curtain of the comics industry. With script samples, a glossary of must-know business terms for writers, and interactive comics-writing exercises, Words for Pictures provides the complete toolbox needed to jump start the next comics-writing success story.

My Review:
Words for Pictures is a book about breaking into and working for the commercial comic industry. The author described what it's like to work professionally as a writer who must work with an editor, artist, letterer, etc. The book was filled with interviews with various editors, artists, and writers who described how to best work together and about business aspects that you should know. The book was also packed with comic art by the various people who were interviewed. If your goal is to write for Marvel or Dark Horse Comics, and you want to know what to do to get the job, what will happen after you do, and how to keep getting jobs, then this book will certainly help you a lot.

On the other hand, I had expected a little more information about handling the challenges of writing for a graphic novel or serial-comic format (compared to writing text-only stories that contain a complete story within one "book"). I also would have been interested in more information about producing web comics, independent comics, and graphic novels. He did talk some about these topics, but he mainly focused on working for comic book publishers. This is fine, but perhaps a more accurate subtitle would be "the business of writing comics."

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting by Josie Jeffery

book cover
The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting
by Josie Jeffery

ISBN-13: 9781607746331
Hardback spiral bound:
104 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: March 11th 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
With its unique split-page mix-and match system, The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting is a colorful visual gardening guide to which vegetables, fruits, and herbs grow best with one another, and which do not. All you have to do is choose from the plant directory to find the perfect plant pals. Each central crop has a row of colored dots along the top and bottom of the strip showing its "requirements"--that is, what it's looking for in a companion plant, whether it be a support while growing and a pest deterrent or a soil conditioner and a nutrient accumulator. Turn the strips and match the dots to find your plants' best friends. The more dots that match, the better the chance your plants will flourish.

My Review:
The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting will help you match up plants that will help each other out, but it gave only a minimal, generalized explanation about how companion planting actually works.

The last half of the book has each page divided into 3 strips. The top strips are plants that will deal with above-ground problems, like it attracts beneficial insects, deters pests, prevents disease, acts as a physical support for climbing plants, acts as a sacrificial trap crop, or provides shade for other crops. The middle strip contains the garden crops that you are trying to find above ground and below ground companions for. The bottom strip contains plants that help with below ground problems like it supplies nutrients, deters soil pests, suppresses weeds, improves the soil, or improves flavor or yield.

Each card has a code along the top and/or bottom of the card to indicate what that plant does (for the companion crop) or what that plant needs help with (for the main crop) listed. You find the main crop that you wish to grow, then flip through the top and bottom cards to match as many of these codes as you can to find a good companion. Unfortunately, the page explaining the code meanings was near the front of the book instead of with the mix-and-match pages, but knowing the codes isn't actually necessary to use the chart.

Each plant's card/strip gave some growing information. There were specific "good to grow with" or "avoid growing with" plants listed on some individual plant cards. Many of these mix-and-match groupings were new to me, so I can't currently comment on how effective this matching system is. However, this mix-and-match system is very easy to use.

The crops covered by this book: Central Crop - apple, apricot, asparagus, beet, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, cherry, cucumber, eggplant, grape, lettuce, parsnip, peach, pear, pepper, plum, potatoes, raspberries & other cane fruit, strawberries, tomato, turnip, zucchini & summer squash.

Above Ground Companion - basil, chervil, chives, cilantro & coriander, dill, fennel, garlic, hyssop, lavender, leek, mint, nasturtium, onion, oregano, parsley, pyrethrum, rosemary, rue, sage, savory, southernwood, sunflowers, sweet corn, thyme, wormwood.

Below Ground Companion - alfalfa, beans (bush and pole), fava beans, borage, caraway, chamomile, clover, fenugreek, foxglove, horehound, larkspur, lupine, marigold, marjoram, mustard, pea, petunia, phacelia, radish, rye, spinach, tansy, tarragon, bird's foot trefoil, yarrow.

The first 46 pages of the book covered other information about gardening. Much of it was extremely basic information about gardening that I'd expect anyone interested in companion gardening to already know. Yet the information was so brief that you'll need to look up further information if you want to successfully do that activity.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.